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Braves experience deja vu against Reds
Atlanta Braves’ Jair Jurrjens slides safely into third base with a triple on Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati. - photo by The Associated Press

CINCINNATI — Jay Bruce insists that his first career homer won’t overshadow Ken Griffey Jr.’s 599th.

Oh, really?

Griffey moved within one homer of a seldom-reached mark on Saturday, but the rookie who’s just getting started was the center of attention in the cluster of disbelieving Cincinnati Reds at home plate.

Bruce extended his amazing weeklong debut with his first homer Saturday, a solo shot in the 10th inning that gave the Cincinnati Reds an 8-7 victory over the stunned and frustrated Atlanta Braves.

The first time the 21-year-old rookie went deep, it ended a game that started with Griffey’s 599th homer.

“You can’t steal the show from him,” Bruce said.

That’s exactly what he did.

Bruce’s homer off Manny Acosta (3-2) dealt another crushing road defeat to the Braves, who couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the ninth and couldn’t stop Bruce an inning later.

“It’s come to the point where we’ve got to start winning these close games,” catcher Brian McCann said. “They’re killing us.”

Griffey was on deck when Bruce connected. He rounded the bases while 38,585 fans chanted “BRUUUUCE!” in unison, flipped his helmet into the air halfway to home, then got pummeled by teammates when he hopped on the plate.

“That’s the first walk-off home run in my life, at any level,” Bruce said. “It’s crazy.”

The Reds’ top prospect is 11-for-19 in his first five games in the majors, providing one big hit after another. He has a pair of three-hit games and a four-hit game.

“What a remarkable story Jay Bruce is,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I’ve never seen a better story. If he’s living a dream, I’d like to be in that dream.”

The Braves dropped their heads and trudged away in disbelief. They can’t seem to do anything right on the road.

Francisco Cordero (2-0) pitched the 10th, sending the Braves to an excruciatingly familiar finish. Atlanta has lost its last 20 one-run games on the road since August, matching the second-longest such streak in major league history.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kansas City lost 21 straight one-run games on the road from 2000-01. Pittsburgh dropped 20 in a row from 1985-86.

The Braves have one of the NL’s best home records at 22-7, offset by the worst road mark at 7-20. The near-miss misery goes much deeper. Atlanta is 0-5 in extra innings this season and 2-16 in one-run games overall.

“That’s the way it’s been going for us, all these close games,” manager Bobby Cox said. “It’s cyclical. It will turn around. It always does.”

The Braves built a 7-6 lead on homers by Greg Norton, Mark Teixeira and Jeff Francoeur, only to let it slip away on a disputed play in the ninth. Rafael Soriano gave up a walk and a single, then failed to look Ryan Freel all the way back to third base on David Ross’ soft comeback grounder.

Soriano threw to first, and Freel dashed for home and slid in headfirst, beating the relay. Cox threw his cap and was ejected while arguing the call at the plate, a sign of Atlanta’s mounting frustration.

“Obviously, I thought he was out,” McCann said. “He wasn’t; I saw the replay. I thought I tagged him on the biceps, but on the replay, it was further down.”

Griffey got the Reds rolling with a two-run drive in the first off Jair Jurrjens, leaving him one away from becoming the sixth player to reach 600 career homers. He also had a sacrifice fly and a double.

With his next homer, Griffey will join Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Sammy Sosa at 600. He’ll have one more chance in his hometown — the series concludes on Sunday — before an eight-game road trip.

“Even his outs are hard,” Baker said of Griffey, who wasn’t available after the game. “It won’t be long.”

Chipper Jones, who went 0-for-5 and had a game-ending error in Cincinnati’s 3-2, 11-inning win on Friday night, had a pair of singles and matched an Atlanta record. Jones’ 81 hits through the end of May equaled Ralph Garr’s mark from 1974.

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